The Joys And Struggles Of Teaching Digital Natives With Janet Ivey-Duensing

With more and more children being raised as digital natives, there is an urgent need for brand-new teaching methods. As their attention span lessens and their dependency on technology increases, education has to adapt rapidly. Joining John Riley and George Usi is Janet Ivey-Duensing, who shares the joys and struggles of teaching STEM to these digital natives. She talks about helping children retain information, especially nowadays when they are glued to their devices. Janet talks about her organizations, Explore Mars and Janet’s Planet, where she uses innovative approaches to teach kids about science and space exploration. She also shares insights about the future of reading in this tech age and why digital natives must be allowed to freely study things they find most interesting.

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The Joys And Struggles Of Teaching Digital Natives With Janet Ivey-Duensing

In this episode, we have an amazing guest who is President at Explore Mars, CEO of Janet’s Planet, cosmic educator, STEM Champion, Guardian & Shepherdess of the Next Generation of Space Explorers, and an American Astronautical Society’s 2022 recipient of the Sally K Ride Excellence in Education Award. Welcome, Janet.

Hi there.

The real question is, do you like pizza? That’s the important question.

I love pizza. I have a funny story about the first astronaut that took pizza to space. His name is Astronaut Don Thomas. He was part of the space shuttle program. He tells this story to kids that he loves pizza. He did four space shuttle missions. Anytime he returned, he would always come home and he would be ordering a pepperoni pizza.

As they sit and get buckled in, normally they get a sandwich that they put in their pockets. At the 2nd or 3rd mission, he goes, “I don’t know if it’d be possible, but could I have a slice of pizza instead of a sandwich?” They said yes, and it’s a great image of him out there. If this comes up on a trivia sometime, Astronaut Don Thomas is the first guy to take a small personal pan pepperoni pizza to space.

That’s got to be a pretty big pocket for a personal pan pizza.

Those astronaut pockets, they got lots of room in them. I’m guessing that worked out pretty well.

Apparently. We’re going to start off with our main question here. If cyber risk was a pizza and the framework was a crust, what is the riskiest topping you’ve seen and what topping would you equate that?

The weirdest thing I’ve ever seen is squid ink, and that was somewhere in Asia. That’s what I would equate it to. It was terrible, and I tried to be kind to my host that was offering that to me. For me, in regular life, it’s like mushrooms. I can’t stand mushrooms. They stink. I don’t like them. For me, squid ink and mushrooms would be the worst possible thing on a pizza. That represents those unsavory things, at least to me, that I’m always trying to protect the innocence of children. Those would be my most unsavory choices.

Those would be very risky for you?

For my husband, it would probably be jalapenos, which I totally love. That goes to the point that everybody’s bit of risk is going to look different. Mostly, I’ve been out touring and doing Janet’s Planet, doing camps, or being live in front of kids. When the pandemic happened, I switched everything to virtual. I was dumb. I didn’t know that there were bad actors who would, of all things, decide to Zoom bomb with some pornographic images right in the middle of teaching about the solar system. I was heart-stricken the day that I had 76 kids online with me from around the globe, and these images populate. Your mind is trying to shut everything down.

Luckily, there have been some major steps in protection there, but that is what I worry about most. I’ve got a granddaughter who’s thirteen and has a limited phone, but she still gets spam text messages. I go, “It’s not right. How do we keep everything safe?” Especially, I think about how much I have tried to adhere to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, making sure that I gather no backend information when somebody visits my website.

I can’t do that on my YouTube channel because I’m children’s content and made for children. I’m not collecting that data. I cannot in good conscience and would not. That’s what troubles me the most. If something were to populate on my website or there’s some robot hitting some of my social media platforms in undesirable ways, or there are spoofs of something out there. It’s just annoying. I’m like, “People, eat some good pizza, whatever your flavor is, but leave other people’s pizza alone.” That’s my stand on my pizza box here.

That sounds like that’s what keeps you up at night, those people jumping in your pizza, throwing extra mushrooms and squid ink on it.

Keep that stuff to yourself. Have your pizza your way, but don’t trample on the innocence of children. Vanderbilt University did a study some years back saying that 10 was the new 15. My guess is that ages closer to 8 or 9 might meet the new 15 in some ways with the way that kids relate to media and other things, which is scary because I work with kids.

I was doing a teaching residency at a school here in Nashville, and there were four girls in this fifth-grade class that I could not believe the attitude that was dripping off of them. I understand it in some ways because they’ve had to learn how to manage and carry themselves with a bit of like, “Don’t mess with me.”

I know a guy in Canada who calls himself an ambassador for artificial intelligence. You guys should interview Evandro. He’s amazing. He’s saying all the time, “It’s not AI that’s bad. It can be used as a tool. You can use it smartly.” I know some creators who are using ChatGPT to basically, “Help me flesh out this idea.” They’re not asking it to write it for them. They’re saying, “Give me a template. Throw out some ideas that keep those creative juices going.” Evandro goes, “I don’t worry about the AI taking over. I just worry about dumb people using it in a bad way.” He might have used some other words, but I’m still keeping it G and PG.

[bctt tweet=”AI is not bad. It can be used smartly. Some creators are using it to generate templates and ideas to keep their creative juices flowing. ” via=”no”]

I’m hoping that 50 is the new 35 so that there’s a little in between the 15 and now. I’m just kidding.

We can only hope. I’m all for that. This is how I started calculating birthdays in the last couple of years. The earth suit might be 56 here on planet Earth, but on Mars, it’s 29.4. That’s how I’m calculating birthdays now. It’s like, “How old am I on Mars? 29.4.”

Do you have any challenges when you’re meeting regulatory requirements, specifically for your business?

My biggest thing is that if we’re doing anything on the internet, or if we’re providing iPads, for example, sometimes we’ll get there and say, “You can use these,” we make sure that there’s no access to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Unless we’ve got something very specific, we try to load those videos. What would worry me the most is if kids came and were participating online in someplace, and then something occurred either during or after and followed them home. We’ve got a contest called the Mars Innovation Challenge. Anybody listening out there, K through 18, we’ve got a great contest and a challenge. You can find it at Go under the Educate tab. It’s a $2,400 cash prize. The semi-finalist will get to meet with a subject matter expert.

We want to share some of those videos, but we go, “Do not tell us where you are from, except in your submission. Do not say your last name, where you’re from, how old you are, or any of those kinds of things in your video. We have to have something signed by the parents or your submission is null and void.” I’ve done this for other companies. It’s always hard. You’ll get a great submission, but when you follow up and go, “Just making sure that your child did submit for this,” then there’s no response. We can’t afford those kinds of possibilities of revealing a kid.

The other thing is when I go into a school, some of my marketing folks and my agents that book me are like, “You never take enough pictures.” I’m like, “I’m busy doing the work.” I always have to ask, “Is there anyone in this classroom or this auditorium that should not or does not need to be photographed?” You’ll occasionally get those. They could be everything from their parent having a sensitive job, they may be from another country, and/or they may be in the foster care system. You never know.

I don’t come in a lot of times to these situations knowing the kids on a level. I’m coming in for a day or a week. We try to look at every possible scenario that could happen. If it’s online, after we recovered from the Zoom bombing, we made sure that there was a better kind of registration thing. Here is the problem when you make it difficult with a password.

It’s not so much that people don’t have access to a phone or Wi-Fi. We can get that pretty publicly. There are still some areas that might be hard to do, but if you’re a student K through five, and your parent hands you the phone and says, “Click on that,” the parent walks away. We even had kids whose parents were working, and you knew they were in the back of the store someplace.

If it’s another whole step of entering your name or plugging in a password, we found that sometimes we’d go, “Why is everybody not here?” You then hear, “We had difficulty doing that.” You then regenerate your Zoom information all the time. Sometimes it comes down to, “How can this be the most accessible to parents and students, and make it the easiest, yet make it the safest?”

To me, that is my biggest struggle with the regulatory stuff. I don’t communicate personally with the kids. I only communicate with the parents, and then it’s only after some time. I’ve had some of these kids now for a few years. If they say, “Mom said it was okay for me to email you,” I need a recommendation letter. Now, I’m on a personal enough level with all of these people after the last few years online with them that I go, “That’s no problem, but all it would take is one moment to be interpreted in an unsavory way, and I’m done. It is over.”

One of the ways that I love working with kids is doing it super lo-fi. “Let’s get some paper plates and some straws. Let’s get a soda bottle and make a water rocket or a stomp rocket.” It’s because I want to push the technology, but I also want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to be as safe as possible. Are you guys familiar with Scratch? What is that program where they can code a little game? It’s block programming. It’s great, but they can have friends, and then people can find them, and then you start to worry. It’s like, “Will these people say anything nice about what they’ve coded in that?”

That’s an MIT project, if I remember correctly.

I had one student who had a quirky idea of animation, and it could go a little dark. You’re like, “That is very interesting.” When she would share it, you’re going, “Maybe not right now, or maybe show me first before we share it with other people.” It’s a jumble. It feels like you’re always trying to read the room with kids and quickly assess.

Online is different. We have kids that eventually tell you in a private chat on Zoom, “I’ve got my camera off because I don’t want you to hear mom and dad arguing. I don’t want you to see my messy room or house.” My heart is to serve kids anywhere and everywhere that I can, but then sometimes having to put that hard fence in and go, “Unless you meet these criteria, you cannot continue in this fashion.”

The regulatory stuff for me is, “I don’t care about collecting all the info. It would be nice if I could mark it and sell you something, but I’m good with honoring that. I’m good with not tracking your data or keeping it or emailing you.” That to me is the easy part. The harder part is how I keep them safe when they are in my program, online with me, or in person. That’s what keeps me up at night.

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You mentioned something in there that I think everybody struggles with, which is the balance of security, adding that extra password and adding the other pieces, the encryption, and all the other things that make it a little bit more difficult, and that ease of use. That balance between those two items that every organization struggles with, and I can imagine when you’re trying to deal with children, that becomes even more so because they don’t take the time to read or understand what they’re seeing sometimes. That makes sense that you struggle with that. Everybody does struggle with that from an organizational standpoint.

Janet Ivey-Duensing Quote

Janet Ivey-Duensing Quote

It’s because you go, “I can make it easy and not put a password there,” but then if a bad actor happens to get a hold of that link, then they go, “Janet, was this password protected?” All fingers are pointing back at me, “Why didn’t you?” You’re right about people not reading emails. That’s why I feel like it’s a brisk way to communicate, but I love the bullet-pointed emails, “Here’s this and this. Love you. Mean it. Bye. See you there.”

Otherwise, you make it too long. We’ve got the attention spans of gnats anymore anyway, even us adults in our YouTube, like we’ve adapted. I used to sit and read a book. Now, it’s like, “Give me an award. I just sat and read a chapter in a book holding it.” It’s profound. The hope that I have is that most kids are pretty savvy. It’s usually the ones that maybe have some difficulty in their home that you worry more about how they may use the internet if the grownups aren’t helping out with that.

We’ve done some things sometimes when we’re doing camps. We’ll send some helpful hints to grownups that ways to monitor. We had a kid speaking of parental involvement, “I got four grandbabies ranging from 13 all the way down to 5. This past week, we’ve had my 8 and 5-year-old here at the house.” It will wear you down. I get it.

This kid came to our camp. He had been a little ADHD in 2019. Here we are back in 2021. He was falling apart by 11:30. He wanted to lay down and take a nap. We’re like, “Are you sick?” We finally figured out on the third day that he was staying up all night playing Fortnite. If you want your kids safe, take the apparatus away, plug it in, and get it out of sight because it’s bedtime. There are all kinds of reports.

It’s going to be interesting to see as we are living with these digital natives who easily can fix my phone when something goes awry. Figuring out how they retain information, they may retain it fine because they’ve always learned that way. It also can be that addictive, high, dopamine hit for like, “I just leveled up so I got to keep playing.”

To me, there are also some checks and balances. I know there are games now that after so many attempts and you don’t level up, it makes you wait for twenty minutes, which I applaud because I go, “Let’s go do something else while we wait for you to level up to whatever else it is.” It’s hard to monitor that. I know that grownups are like, “I need five minutes to finish a text or an email or fix dinner.” The device has replaced the babysitter in a lot of ways.

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The other thing is why memorize something that you can look up? I’ve seen that in some of the children as well. They have that ten-second attention span maybe, and as soon as you’re done, you can ask them what they watched and they’d be like, “I don’t know. That was five minutes ago.” There’s that part of it, too. Are they actually retaining some of that, and how’s that going to work out long term?

Like I said, I want to talk about hopeful things. Of the kids that joined me, there are about 30. I Zoomed with over 10,000 between March of 2020 and June of 2021. For part of that time, I was underneath the NASA Next Gen STEM grant. Kids are still looking for community. These kids’ parents will go, “My kid was reaching out. Maybe you guys could have a little time that’s all about play or getting to know what’s going on.” Everybody’s schedules are a little bit different, but these kids are doing amazing things.

Some of the kids that are here, one just got his drone license. Another is winning a scholarship. One was a state finalist for a 3M thing. It’s mindful and intentional instruction. The kids sometimes would like to play Kahoot! There’s another one that I’m terrible at that’s always about the imposter. I can’t remember. They’ll get mad at me that I can’t remember, but I’m so terrible at it.

If they ever get mean, I shut it down. I was like, “No, not on my planet. We’re kind. You don’t have anything nice to say. We’re shutting it down. See you later.” It was funny, this one kid from Boston who could occasionally drop a bomb right in the middle of something. You’re like, “You.” He’s like, “Yes.” “You did really great.”

For anybody reading this, I am so not judging because I know this in what I’m doing with my own grandkids. It takes longer to have these conversations of like, “No, we’re not going to play on that game because there are too many ads and I can’t trust what’s popping up in that ad.” Even if you hand your kid the phone, you’re still looking over the shoulder going, “That’s not the game we’re playing.” It’s any of those constraints. Life is busy and it gets hard to do that, but that intentionality has to be a piece that we all take in, especially the companies producing the games and producing these online ways.

Life is busy, and it gets hard to monitor the games your kids are playing. But the intentionality to guide them should always be there.

There’s a beautiful thing called Zigazoo. If parents don’t know about it, it’s a way for kids to interact. Basically, I post a question, “What’s your favorite planet?” They come on, but they’re not in touch with one another. They can just watch one another. There’s no way for them to contact each other or comment. They’re like, “Look at these people, what their favorite planet is.” It’s a bit of a safer way for kids to still feel like they have a voice or a social network without having actual ways to connect all of those friendships.

It’s like a bulletin board sort of thing as the old-timers might call it.

It’s like, “Somebody posted there. Look what they like,” which is a beautiful way to do it and it keeps people safe. It was founded by educators who had kids of their own and wanted to create a safe way for them to interact and be online. For me, that’s one of the most beautiful platforms that I’ve found. I’ve heard from teachers, whether you’re using Flipgrid, Google Classroom, or any of these other things and a suite of products, the schools try to shut it down for anything that can get through, always trying to a safer place. Kids want to also check out and do some research so that sometimes hinders that process. It’s back to what you’re talking about where that perfect balance is, and there may not be one.

It evolves within the organization every time.

The reason I like hanging out with kids is that they will surprise you with their genius. When they get turned on a little bit that they have some autonomy to create and innovate, that is powerful, or when they feel like, “I might be able to exact change, how would you?” Posing some of those questions is also very poignant because they’ll go, “Adults shouldn’t do that.” I’m like, “You are right.” There’s grand hope. Go spend a few minutes with a classroom full of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. Your heart might get a little bit of hope in it going, “We’re not doing so bad. We just got to get them through middle school and high school and keep their hope alive.”

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Tell us a little bit about this. You’re part of two organizations. Tell us about the two organizations that you’re a part of.

Let me tell you first about Janet’s Planet. I created it back in the late ’90s. I was working with and for kids at a theme park of all things. Here I was at a place called Opryland in Nashville, working with and for kids and loving it. The park was going to close. I looked around and thought, “Wait a minute. People had always called me Interplanet Janet from Schoolhouse Rock. I can’t be that, but I wonder about Janet’s Planet.”

One of the dads was an attorney. He says, “That’s some trademark. Nobody owns Janet’s Planet.” I was like, “I’ll plant my flag there.” At the time, there was Bill Nye, the science guy, and Beakman’s World. There was a girl on Beakman’s, but she tended to be like, “What’s happening?” I was like, “Wait a minute. We’re the women being the champions of science. I’ll plant my flag there on my own planet.”

I’ve been doing that, and it’s certainly evolved from interstitials on public television to live shows touring the country, to summer camps, to online presence and teaching. I’ll leave for South Africa to present space and science to students there. For me, it’s the ever-evolving brand that is my own. Explore Mars is a policy and advocacy outreach organization designed with the goal in mind of encouraging NASA and Congress to think about long-range exploration goals.

If you’ve ever read Gerard O’Neill or Robert Zubrin’s The Case for Mars, there are many people who believe that the survival of the species depends on us venturing out among the stars. I attended the Human to Mars Summit that Explore Mars. It puts on every May in Washington DC. This 2023, it’s May 16th through 18th at the National Academies of Sciences building.

When I first attended back in 2012 or 2013, they didn’t have a program for kids. I was like, “You guys are growing old. Who’s going to carry on this mission by the time we get there?” They’re like, “You can do whatever you want to do.” For several years, I made sure we either got Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. We were thinking about it, designing our cities on Mars, and things like that.

In early 2019, the President, Artemis Westenberg, who lives in the Netherlands, wanted to promote and do more explore Mars Europe, called to see if I would like to become President of Explore Mars. I was like, “Don’t you want somebody that has a bit more alphabet soup after their name?” Once I talked with their leadership, I was like, “You could get any doctor or somebody, whoever.” They’re like, “No. We like your love of education. Generally, when we mention your name, everybody goes, ‘I like that crazy girl.'”

It’s wild and wacky. When I assumed the role of Explore Mars, I never ever expected to preside over and during a pandemic. We found ways. We realized that whatever we did during that time, it’s how people would remember us. We did everything from drinks with Explore Mars to lots of free webinars and things like that.

Maybe the best thing I can tell you that happened in 2019 is when I became president. In 2016, I had spoken at the summit. Basically, I was asked to give a speech about how to create the best STEM pipeline. I was like, “You cannot rely on me to do that for every student in the world. Wherever you are, you go out into your backyard, into your community, and you start doing the work. It’s on all of us to create this STEM pipeline.”

Lo and behold, that was a hard year for me because I went up there and did a speech. I was flying to Puerto Rico to work with students. The next day, I arrived in Puerto Rico to find out my mom had passed. I quickly flew home. That was in 2016. Fast forward to 2019, I’m standing out in the lobby of the National Academies of Sciences building. A guy named Mack McCauley comes up and says, “I heard you back in 2016.” I was like, “What?” He was like, “I heard you.” I was like, “Tell me more.”

He was like, “I hear.” We went to the Smithsonian, bought some astronaut suits and helmets, and then went to Syrian refugee camps and was doing space and science there. It’s now already super developed this huge amazing outreach in the country of Jordan. It is complete with analog missions and is helping all kinds of students.

Sometimes I feel like that’s my wink to my mom because she just had surgery, and I said, “I don’t have to go. I can stay home.” She’s like, “Your dad’s going to take care of me. Go and do what you do for the children.” It wasn’t until I sat down at the conference. It just hit me like, “Thank you, mama, for saying go.” Mack would’ve gotten there despite whatever I might have said or not said.

It was a powerful moment to realize that sometimes you got to speak your truth and you never know who out there is hearing it. It reminds me of how Mr. Rogers talked to his audience, that he learned from Gabby Hayes, to look at the camera like you’re talking to that one other person. Mr. Rogers firmly believed that the space between the speaker and here was holy ground.

Janet Ivey-Duensing Quote

Janet Ivey-Duensing Quote

One time, he and his friend from seminary went to hear Henri Nouwen, that great speaker and theologian happened to not have made it to the venue. Some layperson ends up giving the homily and the sermon. Apparently, Mr. Rogers judges it the whole time, “He missed that point and this point.” He’s about to turn to his friend at the end of the whole matter, and his friend turns to him with tears streaming down his face. He’s like, “Fred, wasn’t that exactly what we needed to hear?”

That is when Mr. Rogers was struck with that thing. Back to that intentionality, whoever is supposed to hear that message, somehow that space between the speaker and the here will get dynamically, cosmically, divinely transmuted into what that particular person who is supposed to receive that message. I like to think that mom was playing a big part in that whole exchange.

Throughout your experience, when you’re interacting with these kids, what do you think is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned in that process, the one thing that maybe others don’t see? I’ve worked in scouts. I do mentoring through a couple of different programs here for students. Most are high school age and older. There were some things that you think they don’t grasp, but they grasp well. That would’ve been my surprise, that some of these kids do understand more than you think that they do.

Keep the tape rolling, kids. It was back in 2019 when I started doing my camps. I’ve got plenty of stories predating this, but this is one that has carried through the last many years. There was a kid who had just gotten through kindergarten. Usually, my hard and fast rule is they got to be a rising third grader, eight and up. I love the little babies, but they’re still little babies.

My friend, Lucas, from New Jersey, is rolling around on the floor and I’m trying to talk about the solar system or the next NASA mission. I’m like, “Are you getting this Lucas?” “Yes, getting it all.” You just have to let it go. You begin to assist ADHD. When you work with kids long enough, you’re like, “On the spectrum somewhere, it doesn’t matter to me. How can I modify for what all I’m getting here?”

The mom told me this story at the Human to Mars Summit. It was the wackiest thing. She goes, “I spent the entire year getting a call from Lucas’s teacher every day of kindergarten. He comes to your camp. The first day goes by, I’ve got no phone calls. I think you’ve lost my kid. How can they not have been calling me about him? Usually, he may or may not have looked like he was paying attention.”

“The second day goes by, I still am not getting a call from you. What are they doing? They’re sticking him in a room? I don’t know what’s happening.” At some point, his mom goes, “Lucas, what is going on? Your teacher spent the entire year last year telling me about how you were misbehaving or not listening. Why are the people who are running this camp not doing it?” He’s like, “Mom, chill out. Janet totally loves me.”

That’s what was surprising to me. When you asked that kid to spit back what I was saying about black holes, rocket launches, or this, that, or the other, he would tell you. He was totally the sponge absorbing it all. The crazier thing is, how did he know that I loved him? When you spend enough time with kids, it’s what it’s going to look like. “Love you. Can you quiet down over there because I might have something to say?” He joined me all through the pandemic. This is a little guy who gave a speech at the Human to Mars Summit. He’s 8 years old and took 17 pages of notes.

Another surprising thing, there was a girl who was selective mute. Not every parent will put down on the form things about their children. Either they think it’s a reflection of them. It’s really helpful. I’m not going to judge ever. I’m just going to go, “How do I modify it for you, precious little one?” I knew she was a very low-talker. She would tug on you and you’d go, “What do you need?” You’d figure it out.

Watching her blossom from 2019, she was the NASA Junior Lunabotics Competition winner. She would always do the assignments anytime that you ask her to do them. She might not talk to you about them. She finally stood up when we had an astronaut come and she asked a question out loud. I’ve got so many other stories.

There was a kid out in New York on the spectrum. The first time he joined us online, he was stepping down Oreos and wanted to tell me about the Saturn V LEGO set he had behind him. I could tell that the parents were trying to get the cookies like, “Nathan, don’t eat all the cookies.” I was like, “I like that Saturn V behind you. Tell me about that.”

All of a sudden, this twelve-year-old was like, “The RS-25 is my favorite engine. The SLS, I don’t know why they call it the biggest rocket. It’s only a foot taller than the Saturn V.” This kid knew his rocket stuff. It was interesting. Later on, he’s doing so great. He’s joined a soccer team. There are other things that have happened. His parents emailed me and said, “You’re the first place that let him speak and have a voice and didn’t tell him to stop or to shut up.”

If we want our kids to thrive, it’s hard to give them all that space. It’s not hard. It’s time-consuming. You got to put the energy out there to give that. For me, the secret sauce isn’t anything that’s special except to go, “Let me hold space for however you are. I will do this for you. I will try to do it for you. I will fail along the way because I’ll have 30 of you in a class sometimes. When I can, I will see you and I will honor what makes you.”

To me, where I see the biggest thing happen is once you acknowledge what they’re interested in and important, “Let’s travel down that.” I had a kid who loves snakes. She was joining me like, “You want to see my snake, Toby, in person?” “No, but that’s a very cute snake. Thanks for sharing.” How I got her to love space was like, “Have they ever taken a snake to space?” “I don’t know. Snakes on a Plane.”

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She came back and was so excited. She wanted to tell us about how they took geckos and that NASA was coming up with technology imitating the geckos. You got to find what they’re interested in, give them a nudge, and point them down that path. For me personally, it happens in the micro, not always in the macro.

With even all the kids that I’ve Zoomed with and the kids that I’ve appeared in front of, I don’t know how many got the message. A few did because I had a few one-on-one experiences to let me know that I know that something transpired. Hopefully, they’ll hang onto it, but you got to hold that space for them to be as they are and encourage them.

Interacting with kids, I’m talking about almost adult kids or big toddlers on the teenage side of the world. What’s interesting is when they’re reading more books. We have these pre-screeners. I make these phone calls and get an idea to learn a little bit more about you. One of the books that I noticed you recommended was The Road Less Stupid by Keith Cunningham.

The interesting thing is that it’s a business book that talks about decisions, but I can see that you’re a quick decision-maker. You have to be when you’re working with more colorful minds and some of which have no filters. Ultimately, I noticed this in the younger kids that I interact with, having done scouts as well. I can relate to some of the challenges of the one kid that is all over the place. He’s actually listening, being diligent, and making sure that when you’re leading things, there’s a smarter way to do things. It’s about listening and understanding your audience.

With one of your books, what other things are going on that excites you about the future in terms of some of these books that you have read that talked to the problem of leadership or dealing with challenging situations? Where do you think our future is headed in terms of the overall approach to the reading side of the house, reading books, consuming things, and being digitally connected? Even my own son would rather watch a video than read a book these days. I do wonder. That specific part of the future, what’s it going to look like? Is everything going to be in a video? Is it going to be one of these great books that we read?

Another great book is by Tony Wagner of Harvard. It’s basically creating the innovators of the future. He says in there that we should let our children play. In the midst of their play, they may find their passion. In the midst of their passion, they may find their purpose. Here’s what’s interesting. I can talk about my middle stepson. He hated to read in high school, and now he’s a voracious reader.

It’s allowing that time and space. Sometimes it’s a nudge. You hear them like, “You might like this book. It was fascinating. I don’t know. Here’s a thing.” With teenagers, you got to be super aloof and not care too much because they will smell a rat and go, “I know what you’re trying to do.” You throw it out there. Whatever you think about it.

I don’t worry about the kids. Governments? I don’t know. Don’t go into government. The people are good. It doesn’t matter whether I’m working with kids in the US, Wales, Pakistan, or any place. These kids are good. They want good things. They want innovation that matters. They want to see humans living, working, thriving on the moon in space, and doing amazing things.

They want artificial intelligence and a robot that makes pizza. That’s a funny one. If you ask any kid ever, “What would be the most helpful for your life right now that you could innovate?” it’s usually a robot that cleans their room and also makes a pizza. I don’t worry so much about what I believe they are innately able to do. I worry that the construct of the world is going to ultimately harm that vision.

That’s why it should be a universal mandate, “Grownups, start being better. Lock it down. Stop being crazy. Let’s control the violence. Grownups, lock it down. Be better and do better.” I’m tired of hearing people complain about kids. I’m around kids. They’ll give you an honest opinion, but it’s usually spot on. The kids aren’t the ones I worry about. It’s the construct of our world and the grownups running those constructs that I worry about the most.

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I know that if we had all the time in the world, we’d be able to ask a lot more questions, but there’s one thing that we have to cover. If you could go back in time and give yourself advice as a kid, what would it be?

I grew up in Covington, Tennessee, home of the Charms Blow Pop and the birthplace of Isaac Hayes. It is a couple of stop signs on Highway 51, 19 miles down Highway 59. You got the Mississippi River and a lot of cotton fields and soybean fields. I was truly blessed to grow up in this little small town. I started school the year busing started.

I had the most magnificent African-American teachers, Ms. Dorothy Davidson and Ms. Ernestine Jones, who made me love the solar system, and Ms. Rosella Hall, who was the librarian. She was constantly going, “I believe you will love this book.” I was like, “Yes, ma’am.” I couldn’t wait to go to the library. Those very smart women showed me the path to reading and knowledge.

In that regard, I was lucky. If I went back in time, I’d go, “Sweetie, you’re not going to believe it.” It’s those books that you’re reading that you think you’ll never get there. I remember reading a book about a girl on a boat with a passport. That was so far away from my blue-collar family of a plumber in a seamstress that we would ever be on a boat, must less have a passport.

Even as about leaving to go to South Africa tomorrow, that’s what I’d be whispering to that little girl. I would be like, “You will have your passport. You will do things and be able to speak with people. You’ll even have astronauts who call you for stuff.” It’s surprising. That’s what I would say to anybody, especially those of us who might have grown up in rural America. Thankfully, I had parents who wanted better for me. I would tell her like, “Little girl, hang on. It keeps getting better and better. The older you get, the more you get to do.”

I often reflect on the small town. Same for John and I, we grew up in small towns. From a small town to Mars, as the President of Explore Mars, I understand that the goal here is to ensure human exploration sometime in the 2030s in line with what we have seen also in terms of executive orders and at least all the way back to the early 2000s.

What I want to make sure of is having a better idea of how we can help cascade your message because we agree. We think it’s an important objective. I’ve worked on projects and initiatives myself within scientific communities on that. People need to know where to find you. Tell us where they can find you. What’s the best way to get ahold of you?

It’s through We want you to get involved. We want you to be part of that conversation. If you want to get in touch with me personally, there’s a contact form through The 2033 timeline has been a presidential mandate. There are folks who go, “We have the rockets, capabilities, and the Orion capsule with that Artemis I mission.” It really proved that this went further than any human-rated spacecraft has ever gone. If things are looking very good, that module could do very well on its way out to Mars.

The problem is the Martian atmosphere is very thin. You see these rovers coming in hot and you got to deploy all kinds of parachutes. We want humans to ride there safely. We want them to be able to thrive and eat. The first missions are probably going to be to go there, stay there for about 30 days, and then return home, but that still is going to be a three-and-a-half-year proposition.

2033 is still the goal of everybody that I know, and that’s several years off. If global conflicts happen, that money is going to be allocated elsewhere. It might be the late 2030s, but I think by 2045, this generation will have witnessed those first footprints on the red planet. I think there’s probably either a fifth grader to a high school or somewhere right now that will be those first boot prints on Mars.

Thanks for such a deep dive into some of your experiences. I know that our audience is always looking forward to something refreshing and exciting, what’s happening in STEM, as well as understanding the risks of being online. We covered quite a few things.

If I can add a very safe place for grownups to go if you’re looking for some great STEM resources, it’s NASA Next Gen STEM. Put those words into the Google search or the browser search. It comes up, and you’ve got lots of stuff for young kids and high school kids. Talk about a safe place to go, I’ve got many of those things on my website as well. As you venture out to what is safe, NASA’s Kids’ Club or Space Place, or NASA Next Gen STEM are some of the safest I know.

People can also find you on LinkedIn. We do know that there are lots of resources on everyone’s LinkedIn profiles and some of the things that you’ve done. I do encourage folks to go to LinkedIn to learn a little bit more about Omnistruct, but most importantly Janet. Thank you for your time. We’d also like to thank our audience. For those who are reading, if you learn something or if you laughed a little bit, please tell some people about the show. There it is. It’s been another great episode of Pineapple on Pizza. We’re your host, John and George. Janet Ivey is our excellent guest. Thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.

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About Jane Ivey-Duensing

President at Explore Mars
CEO of Janet’s Planet
Cosmic Educator
STEM Champion
Guardian & Shepherdess of the Next Generation of Space Explorers
Keynote Speaker, Actress, and Writer

I am a dedicated advocate for growth and development through public science education. As CEO of Janet’s Planet, I leverage my entrepreneurial experience, business acumen, and performance skills to promote our mission. Our goal is to educate, inspire, and enlighten the hearts and minds of children; to encourage curiosity, creativity, and self-certainty; and to inspire a passion for science.

Explore Mars, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, brings aerospace business leaders together with government entities, mediating and facilitating the direct flow of information. We run the biggest conference in the world focused on sending humans to Mars, influence policymakers through our grassroots outreach efforts, and are extremely effective in promoting collaboration and partnerships throughout the space community.

Her grandkids call me Jan Jan
Loves Puzzles
No-bake cookies are her kryptonite
American Astronautical Society’s 2022 recipient of the Sally K Ride Excellence in Education Award.
Board of Advisors Orbital Assembly
NASA JPL Solar System Ambasador
Award-winning Science Educator
Author of Unsung Genius Book Series, Celebrating Unsung Women in Science
12 Regional Emmy Awards
5 Gracie Awards
STEM-FLORIDA Award for Exploring Microgravity 35 minute documentary for students 3-8
Board of Governors for the National Space Society
2 Tedx Talks, AWE Inspired Science & How To Inhabit Your Very Own Planet #PlanetYou
Self Appointed Guardian & Shepherdess of the Next Generation of Space Explorers